< Articles

I am a Killer: Charles Thompson

Charles Thompson

"I never meant for her to get hurt. I loved her".

     -    Charles Thompson, Texas Death Row inmate #999306

Every day Charles Victor Thompson thinks of his ex-girlfriend, Dennise Hayslip. From the confines of his cell in The Allan B. Polunsky Unit, a prison in West Livingston, Polk County, Texas. He’s on Death Row. And the reason he thinks of Dennise so much? Well, he was head over heels in love with her.

He also shot her through the face.

It happened on April 30th, 1998. Thompson and Ms Hayslip hadn’t long broken up. The two had enjoyed an alcohol-fuelled relationship that existed mostly in each other’s bedrooms and in the dive bars of Houston. Thompson was eleven years her junior and quick to temper. Dennise soon found a more suitable partner in a local barman, 30-year-old Darren Cain. Keith was friendly, patient and kind. People loved him. He was, many locals say, the complete antithesis of her ex, Chuck Thompson.

It’s safe to say that Thompson didn’t take the news that Dennise and Darren had become a couple particularly well. On the 29th April, he drove over to Dennise’s house at 2am and picked a fight with her new boyfriend. Thompson was a violent man with a record of assault, but he wasn’t a tough guy. He left the house in handcuffs after the police were called. He had, by all accounts, been given quite the beating by Darren Cain. In front of Dennise. It was a complete and utter humiliation.

Twenty-four hours later Thompson would be leaving the very same residence after another altercation. Except this second incident wasn’t ended by a few right hands and a patrol car. It was ended by a hail of bullets. As Thompson fled, Dennise Hayslip lay prone, bleeding from the devastation caused by a gunshot wound that tore through her cheek, sending a bullet into her jaw. Darren Cain also lay prone. He’d been shot twice. He was dead.

The way that Thompson saw it? He’d only injured Dennise. It was the doctors that killed her...

During the second and deadly altercation, Cain had reached for a knife. This, plus the fact that the gun was in the house and neither men legally lived at the residence meant that Thompson was only charged with manslaughter for killing Cain. Dennise Hayslip, however, had survived. She was alive. But not for long.

Dennise’s injuries were not life-threatening. Yet she would die days later, during surgery. Or before surgery, to be exact. Her breathing tube had been incorrectly fitted and while surgeons prepped for the procedure, her breathing tube became dislodged from her windpipe for anywhere between five and ten minutes. During which time she became brain dead due to lack of oxygen. Just four days later, medical staff turned off her life support machine. Her family sued the hospital for wrongful death.

If she'd survived, the maximum sentence Thompson would have received for the aggravated assault - coupled with the manslaughter charge - would have been Life. As she didn't, Thompson faced Capital Murder. And the death sentence. 

The way that Thompson saw it? He’d only injured Dennise. It was the doctors that killed her...

An investigation into her death found that the hospital was not at fault for Dennise's death. The blame, the court decided, lay with her shooter, Charles Thompson who had murdered her. He was tried for Capital Murder and found guilty. The Lone Star State had decided to execute him.

Sound a little harsh? Well, Chuck Thompson, his family and his supporters certainly think so. They continue to appeal the decision. He didn’t mean to shoot her and the wound inflicted didn’t directly kill her. Medical incompetence killed Dennise Hayslip, that’s their view. Few others close to the case share that opinion, though. Thompson entered the property with the intention of violence. He reached for a gun. He shot and killed Darren Cain. He fired a bullet through his ex-girlfriend’s face.

The evidence indicating the kind of man that Thompson is - or at least was at the time - soon stacks up on inspection. There was a history of violence in his relationship with Dennise, with her showing friends bruises and cuts on multiple occasions. Thompson also had a drinking problem at the time and would often use cocaine.

Want to hear something truly chilling, though? Chuck Thompson fled the scene of the crime that night and sought refuge at a friend’s house, Ms Diane Zernia’s. He later tried to arrange for a hitman to kill her. He wanted her gone so she couldn’t testify against him. Luckily for Diane Zernia, the man Thompson was speaking to about the hit was an undercover police officer… The defence argued, successfully, that the recording of the conversation was obtained by illegal means. So the jury didn’t even hear it. Yet still came to the collective conclusion that Thompson was ‘a future danger to society’ and should be executed.

Thompson has given interviews and written blogs from behind bars, often demonstrating surprisingly thoughtful and eloquent musings on his crimes and fate. Here’s how he sees it all:

“It’s all a blur really. I feel remorse yes. I never wanted this to happen. I don't wish those people any harm. I deeply regret what I did. I live with it every day. I think my fate is determined... But, I'm a prisoner of hope."

“I do not worry about death, dying is easy… You lay down, get a shot and go to sleep. I fully 100 per cent understand the whole execution process. It is very sterile, like a medical procedure. I do not think about getting killed but I have had the dream all of us do: snake bite, injected, held down electrocuted. I do not believe that I’ll be killed. I do not accept it as my fate nor reality. Odd as it sounds, I work my behind off and really believe I will make it off death row.”

“It’s living in this conundrum, in this enigma, it’s hard.”

Some Death Row inmates are mellow, a few are hard headed and will never learn. Some have the same old issues and problems that led them to coming here; scams, conman ways, hustlers, players. In general, though, they're a laid-back motley crew. Very diverse.”

“I only fear God. As a believer, I fear nothing on two legs. I believe we go before our maker and get judged. Most go to Heaven when they die.”

Will Charles Thompson make it to Heaven...? He doesn’t even know if he’ll make it to the chair.

Listen to the producers discuss the making of the series in the official podcast.

Watch the UK premiere of I am a Killer season two only on Crime+Investigation this October.

By Steve Charnock

Wednesday, 12 September, 2018 :17